New Delhi: He made sure he didn’t miss out on his daily namaz while in jail but also faithfully read the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads for solace and strength, says former TV anchor Suhaib Ilyasi who was acquitted on charges of murdering his wife this month.
Going from the heights of fame as a pioneer of crime shows in the country with “India’s Most Wanted” to finding himself as the accused in one of Delhi’s most high-profile murder cases, it has been a rough 18-year ride, said Ilyasi.
A reading of the Hindu scriptures helped see him through the darkest days behind bars in Tihar Jail, added the 52-year-old, who describes himself as a “devout Muslim”.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment for stabbing his wife to Anu death in 2000 and was acquitted by the Delhi High Court on October 5, which ruled that it was a case of suicide.
Ilyasi’s wife Anju was rushed to a hospital on January 11, 2000 with stab wounds she received at her East Delhi residence. She was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. Her mother and sister filed a case against him.
Though he spent most of the 18 years out on bail with the threat of prison hanging like the proverbial sword of Damocles over his head, a trial court sentenced him on December 20 last year.
Ilyasi moved the high court challenging his conviction and his faith in the judiciary paid off.
“When the trial court pronounced my conviction, for a moment I felt the ground beneath my feet give way. However, I had full faith in the judiciary and was sure that the truth will ultimately prevail.
“But inside the prison, one feels moments of endless wait, of uncertainty and insecurity. It was in those moments that I found solace in the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads,” Ilyasi said.
Those were dark days, he recalled, but a reading of the scriptures and his innate faith ensured that his positivity was not overpowered and he “emerged stronger and wiser” from his nine months in captivity.
He recited a verse from the Upanishads and said, “The teachings kept me strong, positive and motivated.” He turned into a hardcore vegetarian and shared the teachings of the holy books with his fellow inmates.
“Initially, they were shocked to hear a Musalman reciting Sanskrit ‘shlokas’ and explaining their meanings. I am happy that I could share the wisdoms of the holy books with them,” said Ilyasi, adding that he offers namaz five times a day.
The former investigative journalist, whose father Jameel Ilyasi was the head of the All India Imams Organisation, is writing a book to make the teachings of the Gita and the Upanishads easily understandable.
“I have gained a lot from the teachings of these two scriptures and now I want to make them accessible to common people. I had started working on the project in jail itself,” Ilyasi, who also edited the prison’s journal ‘Shakti Times’ during his stay in the jail, said.
“It is a known fact that all religions, including Islam, have drawn inspirations from the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. In today’s time, it is all the more important that everybody, irrespective of religion, should know and understand the real meaning of these epic scriptures. This will bring more unity and harmony in society,” the founder and editor-in-chief of Bureaucracy Today magazine said.
The entrepreneur has produced various programmes for India TV and Doordarshan, directed and produced films and has a chain of pharmacies and supermarkets.
In 2016, the music launch of his film “Ghar Wapsi”, in which Pakistani ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali was making his acting debut, was scrapped following threats from right-wing political parties, including the Shiv Sena.
The various businesses kept him busy through the 18 years but it took a tremendous toll on his personal life, said Ilyasi.
“Not only did I have to fight to prove my innocence, I also had to fight a legal war with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for my daughter Aaliya’s custody… The contention was to take Aaliya’s custody on the basis of the murder allegations. However, they were not successful as the honourable court allowed Aaliya to stay with me,” he said.
Ilyasi, who has remarried and has a son, nine-year-old Mihran, wants Aaliya, now 21, to host “India’s Most Wanted”.
He said he is gearing up to re-launch the show, which once dragged fugitive criminals into the police dragnet. The dark days, he said, are behind him. “Nothing can compensate for the time I have lost. There is no point thinking about the past or the unseen future. I have learnt to live in the present.
“Today I am free, not just in physical terms but also emotionally and spiritually.”